What is Whitmore's Disease?
Cats with weak immune systems and outdoor cats are at a higher risk of developing the condition. The bacterium may be present, but dormant, in a cat’s body for several years before causing infection. The infection can affect almost any organ, notably the spleen, lungs, liver, and lymph nodes. It is important to note that, though rare, this infection can be zoonotic and can spread to humans.
Whitmore’s Disease – also called melioidosis – is a type of bacterial infection that can affect animals and humans. The causative bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, is transmitted via the environment, usually in soil and water. B. pseudomallei is present in predominantly tropical climates and is most commonly found in parts of Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific. However, the bacterium has since spread around the world in shipments of contaminated soil.
Symptoms of Whitmore's Disease in Cats
Symptoms may be nonspecific, and can be sudden or long-lasting. Even though it is rare, this disease can spread to humans. It is imperative that you seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Swollen glands
- The presence of lesions
Causes of Whitmore's Disease in Cats
The primary cause of Whitmore’s Disease in cats is coming into contact with B. pseudomallei. Cats can contract the infection by ingesting or inhaling the bacterium, or through open wounds. The organism is most commonly found in moist soil in tropical regions. In some cases, B. pseudomallei may be present in ordinary garden soil. B. pseudomallei is resilient in nature, and can survive for as long as 16 years in soil and water.. B. pseudomallei can even invade the cells of protozoan organisms and certain fungi, an ability which greatly contributes to its resilience.
Diagnosis of Whitmore's Disease in Cats
Your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination and presentation of symptoms. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as any relevant outdoor activity or travel history. In many U.S. states, veterinarians are required to report any cases of infection to state or federal disease control authorities.
Your vet will make a definitive diagnosis by taking a bacteria culture or examining samples using a microscope. Bacteria can be found in lesions, urine, feces, blood, and tissues. Other antigen detection tests, such as immunofluorescence, may also be utilized. Your vet may also test for other conditions that can weaken the immune system.
Treatment of Whitmore's Disease in Cats
Treatment methods will vary depending on the area in which the owner and cat live, as well as the personal and financial preferences of the owner. In some countries, treating Whitmore’s Disease may not be allowed at all.
Whitmore’s Disease is difficult to treat, and it is likely that treatment may not be effective. Due to its resilience, B. pseudomallei is resistant to several antibiotics and other medications used to treat bacterial infection. The condition may recur as soon as treatment has concluded. Other treatments may be recommended based on the location of the infection. Your vet will be able to advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific needs.
Intravenous fluid therapy combined with bacterium eradication techniques may be effective in treating Whitmore’s Disease, but there is currently no scientific literature supporting this. Unfortunately, in cats with persistent Whitmore’s Disease that is unresponsive to treatment, euthanasia may be recommended due to the cost and lengthy duration of treatment.
Recovery of Whitmore's Disease in Cats
Recovery and prognosis will vary depending on the geographic region, the location of the infection, and the success of treatment. Treatment may last as long as three months or longer.
Always follow your vet’s post-treatment instructions carefully. It is important that you administer any antibiotics prescribed to your cat for the entire recommended duration of treatment, even if the condition starts to improve. Failure to do so could result in aggressive recurrence. However, it should be noted that there is a chance the condition will recur following the conclusion of the antibiotic regimen.
If you live in a multi-cat household, you should isolate any infected animals. You will need to disinfect your house thoroughly to avoid contracting the disease yourself. Employing preventative measures is important for avoiding reinfection. You should try to limit your cat’s outdoor activity, particularly if you live in a tropical area or near farmland. Always provide clean drinking water.
Your vet will schedule follow-up appointments as needed to monitor the condition. If the condition has recurred or seems to be getting worse, contact your vet immediately. If you suspect that you have contracted melioidosis from your cat, contact your doctor immediately.